Inspiration: Downton Abbey

I don’t know much about cinematography, but I have a personal rule: if a movie or a show is filmed in a way that makes me want to whip out my camera and photograph the screen, then to me, that is good cinematography. I’ve felt like this way many times before – on my old blog I dissected a JLO music video because it was so gorgeous – and most recently it’s been for the British/American collaboration show Downton Abbey. (NOTE: the photos in this post are not my own. See below for copyright details.)

Downton Abbey

I am seriously head over heels for this show. My best friend introduced me to it (thank you!) and I was immediately hooked, especially on the cinematography. I think I yelled “I love this shot!” at least ten times in the first episode.

If you haven’t seen or heard of it yet, it’s like a classy soap opera, and by that I mean it has all the good elements of a soap opera mixed in with beautiful settings, period clothes, English accents and amazing actors (Maggie Smith is hilarious). The show focuses on a fictional estate near London – Downton Abbey – and goes through the stories, successes and struggles of its family as well as the servants that work for the family. It touches on topics of inheritance, women’s rights, war, class distinction and modernization, making it not just a gorgeous show but an interesting and relevant one too.

I’ve been watching and re-watching the show’s two seasons over the last few weeks and I am so in love with it I decided to go back and capture screen shots to share why I think the show is visually brilliant.

First off: genius framing. There is nothing more exciting to the photographer in me than scene after scene of gorgeous composition within frames:

Lord and Lady under the trees

Lord Crawley down stairs

(I also love how they distinguish the servants’ world downstairs from the rich, bright upstairs with darker lighting):
Downstairs gloomy

Walking in hall

Camera angles also add so much to the mind-blowing creativity behind the show. Of course, these photos don’t give off as much of an effect as seeing the scene with camera movements and actions, but they provide interesting ideas for capturing unique shots:

(I love the position from which this shot was filmed – it would be perfect for someone getting ready, like a bride or groom):
Bates and Thomas

(You need to see this scene – the camera swoops down from above into the entrance – pure brilliance!):
Entrance from above

(One thing I envy video for is being able to shift focus from different areas within a few seconds – the focus here was on the flowers and then switched to Lord Crawley at his desk):
Lord Crawley behind flowers

(This positioning of the columns is just perfect):
Anna in London

Then there are the plain brilliant details, like setting the mood for a scene with a simple shot:
Mary in mirror

Or throwing sun flare in to add prettiness to this bittersweet scene:
Matthew and Mary sun flare

Finally, I’ll end with one of my favorite scenes from the show so far. I don’t want to spoil what’s going on, but it encapsulates the show perfectly: fashion, decor, drama… it’s seriously perfect. (So perfect, it was just nominated for 16 Emmys!)

Sybil Fashion 1

Sybil Fashion 2

Sybil Fashion 3

Sybil Fashion 4

All screen shots taken from legally purchased PBS Masterpiece material for educational purposes. All photos copyright Carnival Films and WGBH Boston “Downton Abbey”.

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